I thought mushrooms were cool even before i picked up these two books as you can see i’m wearing my mushroom sweatshirt today but after having read these books you can now consider me a dedicated fan i learned so much from reading both of these books i do think they’re kind of a stage one and stage two kind of thing i think one of them is a lot better for beginners.
It’s a lot more approachable so let’s start off the video by discussing that book it’s called the way through the woods on mushrooms and morning by long litt woon this book was published in 2019 by spiegel and grau which at the time was an imprint of random house but they have since relaunched as an independent publisher this book was translated from the norwegian by barbara j haveland and the hardcover of this book that i purchased using my own money at the wonderful chop suey books in richmond virginia comes in at 291 pages this is a memoir in which the author discusses how she lost her husband very suddenly very unexpectedly.
They had been a couple for a very long time they met when they were very young the author was in her late teen years and her husband was in his early 20s i believe she says is when they met and so they had spent a good chunk of their lives together as a couple and then one day when her husband went to work he just collapsed and died i don’t think we’re ever told what caused his sudden death i don’t think they ever find out what caused his death but it was long before his time.
That is for sure he was not that old and then all of a sudden the author who had spent the majority of her life with this person who moved to norway to be with her husband found herself alone this memoir does more or less start at that point in her life we do of course learn about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death but the point where her story really begins is the point after her husband has died and she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do next how she should spend her time.
She’s even wondering if she even wants to stay in norway because she’s a malaysian woman she moved there to be with him if he’s not there anymore does she even want to be there but she decides just to fill some time she decides she wants to take a mushrooming course where she would learn from experts she would learn how to identify different types of mushrooms learn which ones were edible and go out into nature as a group and collect them and since at that point in her life anyway the author was a beginner she knew next to nothing about mushrooms.
She uses that opportunity to give you as the reader a lot of good introductory information that she learned both in this course and then through her own experiences and i thought that was really great especially for people like me who find mushrooms really intriguing but don’t really have a whole lot of good knowledge about them like i didn’t gather mushrooms as a kid i didn’t even know that that’s something people do until i started studying russian i remember in one of my russian classes i forget what level.
It was but we were learning vocab memorizing vocab about activities that people do at the dacha or their country house and gathering mushrooms was one of the things on the list and i remember asking myself is that something people really go out and do and it turns out yes it’s actually a huge part of their culture but anyway the author of this book does keep the science pretty light she focuses much more on practical information when it comes to mushroom gathering and when it comes to her personal journey.
I have to say it is so fun seeing this author go from this beginner who’s really skeptical that she’s going to be able to learn how to identify even a handful of species you see her get more and more into it up to the point where she’s actually studying to become a certified mushroom identifier so that she can look at other people’s mushrooms and tell them what species they are and whether or not they’re safe to eat but as much as her journey in this book is about that improvement in her mushroom identification skills.
I would actually say the much more important journey that happens in this book is about her ability to find joy in this learning experience when she’s in the midst of her grief it’s about her ability to form new bonds new friendships with people that she meets through doing this who also share a passion for mushroom gathering you know that her grief never leaves her during this experience and certainly.
She is talking about it throughout the book but you can tell that the ability to go out into nature to quiet her mind and just focus on finding these mushrooms she now had an outlet she had a place to put her energy and her focus she had a new purpose in life all of this was clearly so important in her grieving process the book does oscillate back and forth between her discussions of her grief and then the discussions that deal with mushrooms but of course there is some overlap as she’s having some of these experiences she’s remembering her husband she’s thinking of him.
So, she’ll bring him up but it’s not like she’ll be in the middle of a particularly light section and mention something devastating she does mainly keep the personal stuff in the personal sections and vice versa for the mushroom sections and really this book is surprisingly light-hearted for a grief memoir i mean not to say that it’s not tremendously sad hearing about the loss of her husband and not to say that this book isn’t moving because i think it was both those things to be honest but unlike some other grief memoirs i’ve read it’s not like you’re going to have a little gray cloud hovering above your head for a period of time after you read it.
Which has been the case for some other grief memoirs i’ve read if i were to put the tone of this book into words it has this wonderful uplifting feeling of curiosity to it like the lightness of new life beginning after a great loss the spring after a dark winter this book was actually a five-star prediction this was one of a handful of non-fiction books that i predicted would go on to earn five stars from me and i’m delighted to say that that prediction ended up coming through for me.
I just loved this book i thought it was beautifully written beautifully translated a great introduction to mushrooms for beginners like myself and certainly great motivation to put on some boots pick up a basket and go out into the forest yourself but if the way through the woods was your intro 101 level course about mushrooms then the next book i would like to tell you about is definitely the stage two the intermediate advanced level book to pick up after you already know a little something about mushrooms that book is called in search of mycotopia citizen science fungi fanatics and the untapped potential of mushrooms by doug bierend.
This book was published in 2021 by chelsea green which is an independent publisher the hardcover of this book comes in at 336 pages however i read an e-copy of this book that i received for free for reviewing purposes through netgalley this book is essentially a collection of profiles about people who work with mushrooms just in different capacities so you have your scientists and your growers and your business people but then also just your enthusiasts people who organize different types of gatherings such as festivals around mushrooms people who connect online because of a shared love of mushrooms people who see mushrooms as a symbol and as a unifier the author does pretty much go in that order too so at the beginning of the book.
When he’s talking about the scientists who study mushrooms both trained and self-trained he’s also discussing the science of mushrooms and it goes way more in depth than in the way through the woods and let me tell you mushrooms are unbelievable i can’t even wrap my head around some of the things that they do like did you know that certain mushrooms can pull heavy metals up out of the soil and lace themselves with it essentially making themselves poisonous protecting themselves against anything that might want to eat them because i sure didn’t and don’t even get me started on how mushrooms actually digest things.
They are straight out of science fiction but as out of this world cool as mushrooms are and as important as fungus is to the ecosystem there are still a lot of people out there who don’t like mushrooms in the slightest and long also discusses this in the way through the woods there are people known as mycophobes as opposed to mycophiles they see mushrooms as nuisances.
They see them as dangerous or is something that certain people just like to get high on and as a result the field of study surrounding mushrooms and fungus mycology it’s not taken as seriously it’s been kind of pushed to the fringes and anyone who really has a passion for this field is seen as kind of weird or potentially as a druggie it’s that disregard for mushrooms that has actually caused these underground communities to spring up around mushrooms mushrooms actually are a very potent symbol of community and networking given the science behind them or should i say the science underneath them since a passion for this field really does seem to bring people together the individuals that the author spoke with for this book and people who he met.
When he was attending different gatherings that he attended for research for this book all saying the praises of mushrooms how you can organize around them how you can cultivate them and become self-sufficient because you can use waste from other processes in order to cultivate them there’s this idea that people can use mushrooms to change the world in some ways i don’t think that’s too far-fetched i mean i find it pretty obvious that when people come together with a common goal and everyone puts their mind to it people can achieve really big really great things.
I also believe that if you can be doing things more locally and you can be more sufficient you should i should we all should i think that’s a great thing and also i think it’s clear from reading this book and the previous book the way through the woods that there is something about mushrooms that really does bring people together but i think the issue that arises with that kind of thinking ended up being my main problem with this book and that’s the fact that the mushroom kind of gets lost a lot of these groups.
who originally organized around the humble mushroom end up becoming a lot more focused on their social and societal goals and when they’re talking about those to the author you start asking yourself what does all of this have to do with mushrooms i think the author himself was well aware of that fact he does comment upon it subtly politely in the back half of the book but i myself felt i had to at that point in the book forage for any mention of a mushroom in the text so while there was a ton of cool science in the first half of the book a lot of which i will be thinking about for a long time to come and i can totally see how people recognize the amazing potential of mushrooms to foster community and social progress i do wish the focus on mushrooms.